Navigating UK Corporate Immigration

Navigating UK Corporate Immigration

The UK remains a desirable location for talented workers, foreign entrepreneurs, and companies looking to expand their businesses or set up business in the UK. Considering the changing regulations and policies in 2024, managing the complexities of UK business immigration requires a planned strategy. Joanne Taylor is a Partner in the UK Immigration team at Magrath Sheldrick LLP and focuses on Business Immigration and provides strategic and practical advice for those navigating the complex UK Immigration rules.

Navigating UK Corporate Immigration

 Magrath Sheldrick LLP is a well-established law firm based in the United Kingdom, specialising in Immigration and Employment law. The firm has a strong reputation for providing high-quality legal services and is recognized for its expertise in assisting individuals and businesses with their immigration needs. The firm’s commitment to client-focused solutions and attention to detail has contributed to its standing as a leading immigration law practice. 

Can you provide an overview of the current UK immigration rules regarding entering the UK for business purposes?

The Business Visitor route is designed for individuals intending to visit the UK for short periods for specific business-related activities. This could include attending meetings, conferences, training sessions, negotiating contracts, and other similar activities. Business visitors are typically allowed to stay in the UK for up to six months, but the exact duration may vary based on the specific purpose of the visit. It’s important to note that the Business Visitor route does not permit individuals to undertake employment or engage in activities that would typically require a work visa. For work-related activities, individuals are required to apply for the appropriate work visa.

Individuals who wish to work in the UK can be sponsored under the Skilled Worker category. The Skilled Worker route is a key component of the points-based system. To qualify for this visa, individuals must have a job offer from a UK employer with a valid sponsorship license and meet specific criteria related to skill level, English language proficiency, and salary.

There are also other categories, such as Global Business Mobility and Global Talent for individuals who are leading or a potential leader in academia, arts and culture or technology.

Has UK immigration law become stricter in recent years and if so, how has this impacted business looking to hire migrants?

The general view is that the UK immigration law has become stricter in recent years, especially with the end of the free movement of people between the UK and the European Union (EU) due to Brexit, EU nationals became subject to the same immigration rules as non-EU nationals. This shift impacted the ease with which EU nationals could work and reside in the UK.

Businesses that rely on lower-skilled and lower-paid workers from the EU, such as in agriculture, hospitality, construction and social care, face significant challenges in filling vacancies and retaining staff. They may have to increase wages, invest in training, automation or technology, or reduce their output or quality. Some may relocate their business outside of the UK.

Businesses that need higher-skilled and higher-paid workers from the EU, such as in finance, technology, engineering and education, may find it easier to recruit them under the Points Based system, as they will face the same rules as non-EU workers. However, they will also have to bear the costs and administrative burdens of sponsoring visas and may face more competition from other countries.

Businesses that employ international students or graduates from the UK may benefit from the Graduate visa, which allows individuals to stay and work in the UK for two or 3 years after graduation, in any job. This may increase the pool of talent and skills available to employers and help them retain workers who have already integrated into the UK culture and society.

However, with regards to Students the government has recently changed the rules limiting the rules for switching and dependants.

Businesses that operate in the health and care sector may benefit from the health and care visa, which provides a streamlined and cheaper process for workers coming to the UK to work in the NHS and social care. This visa only covers certain occupations and does not address the wider issues of low pay, poor working conditions and high turnover in the sector.

What does a business need to consider when looking to hire migrants?

There are many things that a business needs to consider from an immigration perspective when looking to hire migrants from outside the UK. Some main considerations are:

  • The type of visa that the migrant worker will need to apply for. Different visas have different requirements, such as skill level, salary, language ability, and sponsorship. The business should check the eligibility criteria and the application process for each visa option.
  • Visa costs and application processing times. Each certificate of Sponsorship costs £239.00, the application fees range from £284.00 – £2,420.00 per person, depending on visa type, visa duration, location of application and whether priority processing services are selected. Applying from within the UK for a work visa can take 8 weeks (or 2-5 days if a priority service is purchased). If applying from outside of the UK, quoted visa processing times stand at approximately 3 weeks for work visas (or 5 days if a priority service is purchased).
  • The cost and time involved in obtaining a sponsor licence. The business will need to have a sponsor licence to hire most workers from outside the UK. The sponsor licence application fee ranges from £536 to £1,476, depending on the size of the business. The business will also need to pay the immigration skills charge for each worker they sponsor, which is £1,000 per year for medium or large sponsors, and £364 per year for small or charitable sponsors. The sponsor licence application usually takes up to 8 weeks, but it can take up to 18 weeks to process. A priority service is available for Sponsor Licence applications but currently there are limited priority slots which are quite difficult to obtain.
  • The availability and suitability of the migrant workers. The business should conduct a thorough recruitment process to find the best candidates for the job. The business should also consider the cultural and linguistic diversity of the migrant workers, and how they will integrate with the existing workforce and customers.
  • The legal and compliance obligations. The business should comply with the immigration rules and the sponsor duties, such as reporting any changes in the migrant workers’ circumstances, keeping records of their documents and attendance, and co-operating with the Home Office. The business should also comply with their duty to prevent illegal working.

How does a company prevent illegal working and what are the consequences for employing an illegal worker?

All UK employers (whether sponsors or not) are required to prevent illegal working by conducting a “right to work check” on all employees before the start of their employment. If an employer is found to have employed an illegal worker and has not conducted valid right to work checks, they risk a civil penalty. Employers will need to make sure that they have systems in place to conduct and record right to work checks in a legally compliant way, and that they avoid any discriminatory treatment of individuals in how these checks are carried out.

Do you envisage a change in UK business immigration rules for 2024?

Immigration policy is inextricably linked to the UK political landscape and with a General Election in 2024, all of those impacted by UK Immigration changes will need to keep an eye on what the next chapter will bring. The developments reflect the UK’s evolving approach to managing immigration, balancing the needs of its labour market and educational institutions with broader policy objectives.

We expect 2024 to be a busy year for Immigration changes:

**Increase in Immigration Health Surcharge**: The UK government has proposed a considerable increase in the immigration health surcharge, effective from January 16, 2024. The primary rate will rise from £624 per year to £1,035 per annum. This change will impact all applicants, including students and those under 18 years of age (although they will be subject to a lower fee).

**Anticipated Skilled Worker Visa Changes** The Home Secretary has announced a package of measures in December 2023 which aim to significantly reduce legal migration into the UK. The “five-point plan”, which will come into force in Spring 2024, consists of the following changes:

  • Skilled worker minimum salary change: the threshold for applications under the Skilled Worker route will increase to £38,700 (from the current £26,200), with a lower salary threshold applicable to health and care workers.
  • Shortage Occupation List: The 20% discount applied to minimum salaries for applicants under the Shortage Occupation list (SOL) will be axed. In addition, the Home Secretary has asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to review the entirety of the SOL given the new minimum salary threshold for Skilled Workers, with a view to reducing the number of eligible occupations on the SOL.
  • Family Visas: The minimum salary threshold to sponsor a family member will increase to £38,700 (from the current £18,600 which was set in 2012) in line with the changes to the Skilled Worker threshold.
  • Student and Graduate visas: The government will ask the MAC to review the Graduate Route to “prevent abuse and protect the integrity and quality of UK Higher Education”.
  • Health and Care visas: Overseas care workers will not be able to bring family dependents to the UK. Care firms that want to sponsor people to come to the UK will need to be regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

**Increase in Civil Penalty charges for illegal working**. The maximum illegal working penalty is due to increase from £20,000 to £60,000 in January 2024.

**Further digitalisation of borders**. The continuing role out of the Electronic Travel Authorisation “ETA” is expected with Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates being able to apply from 1 February 2024. Further countries will be rolled out during 2024. The ETA is a digital permission to travel to the UK and is a visa waiver system introduced to help strengthen the security of the borders. It’s also noted that British nationals will be required to comply with the European Travel Information and Authorisation System “ETIAS” from 2024.

Joanne Taylor
Partner – UK Immigration
Magrath Sheldrick LLP | 22 Chancery Lane, London
WC2A 1LS | DX 149 (Chancery Lane)
DDI: 020 7317 6765 | Fax: 020 7317 6766


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